The new "Dietary Guidelines for Americans" produced by our top government food scientists has just been released to great media excitement.
You can now have coffee! And eggs! And rich foods cooked in saturated fat; and bacon too! How do they know? The government experts say so.
It is true these same scientific guidelines have been scolding for 40 years that these same foods could kill you — but they have changed their minds.
Sorry for all those missed pleasures since 1977 when President Jimmy Carter, who certainly would know about peanuts, started assuming we were not competent to make these decisions ourselves.
Congress recently got into the act by requiring that the scientists at the Agriculture Department and those at the Department of Health and Human Services who prepared the guidelines in the past be augmented by new experts at the National Academy of Medicine — helpfully adding a third bureaucracy to second guess the others.
Experts also include a Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, oversight policy officials at both departments, writing staffs, reviewers and technical assistants, and hundreds of lobbyists who make recommendations through the government’s comment process.
The final report has hundreds of pages, multiple charts, references to scores of outside studies and plenty of footnotes. And there are fourteen appendices getting into the details.
What could go wrong?
Unfortunately, studies keep contradicting each other.
The experts explain this by saying that “science” will settle the matter. They do not mention that it might take forty years.
The recommendation against saturated fats — the fats characteristic in meat and dairy products — was one of the earliest. The American Heart Association had warned that fats raised the risk of heart disease and thus must be avoided.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, however, had advised that if people reduced fats they would substitute carbohydrates, which were worse than fats.
So which experts were right?
Stanford University Professor of Medicine Christopher Gardner explained: “to really know what [saturated fats] do would take the kind of studies we can’t take in real life. But you can’t have ‘no advice’ so this is the best advice from the data that is available — [but it] may not be useful.”
Comprehensive studies would be too expensive and patients in the tests cheat on what they really eat anyway, defeating their reliability. The good professor concluded by questioning whether there should be any guidelines at all.
The inevitable result of forcing general guidelines is that recommendations are contradictory.
The most recent American Guidelines dropped warnings against dietary cholesterol from the key recommendations section and no longer recommended that its intake be limited to 300 milligrams per day.
Yet, deeper in the report was a 16-year old study recommending that as part of a “healthy eating pattern” one should “eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible.”
Moreover, the report did recommend limiting saturated fat to 10 percent of calorie intake and to substitute dairy products with no or little fat. But elsewhere it reported that reducing fats would do no good if substituted with carbohydrates.
Guidelines are not only internally inconsistent but are contradicted by other experts. The U.S. Guidelines did not explicitly recommend limiting meat intake but it did present a chart of items that should be limited, which included some meats.
An even bigger governmental expert, the World Health Organization, however, was blunt in warning that processed or red meat did cause cancer.
Anyway, if you are taking notes, here is what you can eat according to the American Guidelines: less than 2,000 milligrams of salt, 5 cups of coffee per day, low-fat or skim milk, sugar if less than 10 percent of calories, one drink of alcohol a day for women and two for men.
You are encouraged to eat vegetables of “a variety of colors” (as the HHS secretary cutely put it), fruits, grains, seafood legumes, nuts, and oils. Bon appetit.
Most Americans, however, simply ignore the experts. They eat too little vegetable, dairy, fruit, oils and especially too few grains, seafood, beans and nuts.
Americans eat 70 percent more sugars and saturated fats than they are supposed to. They eat 90 percent more salt than the experts say they should.
Can technology straighten out these miscreants? Parents can use Mobile Spy or Spy Stick to monitor their children’s iPads to see what they eat; but my money is on the kids.
Apple Watch has a new “health tracker” app it expects to be used by 15 million people to improve their diets. But that means 300 million will not use it and it is doubtful a watch could succeed where mothers could not.
So far the government nannies cannot mandate diets but forty years of error have not put a dent in the helicopter health bureaucrats’ willingness to tell us what we should eat.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies, the author of "America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition and Constitution," and was Ronald Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management during his first term. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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